MANUFACTURERS Guide to Bar Code, Common Forms and EC/EDI

4.  The EAN.UCC System

4.1 Introduction

People and organizations communicate better when they both use the same words and numbering systems. In language, standard words are defined in the dictionary. For measurement, the metric system is an international standard. The EAN.UCC System is an internationally accepted method of identifying products, serializing shipping containers and clearly communicating other important business transaction data such as purchase order numbers, expiration dates, lot numbers, etc. in a standard, machine readable (bar code) format.

The EAN.UCC System has been used for over 20 years in the food industry but nothing about it makes it appropriate only for food items or only for retailers. In fact, the EAN.UCC System was originally conceived and developed by members of the electrical products industry for use between manufacturers and distributors. In the United States alone, over 95,000 manufacturers of everything including industrial, general merchandise, food and other products, are using this product numbering system.

Understanding the concepts of the EAN.UCC System is important to the success of the compliance labeling project, so take your time reading and digesting this chapter before going on to the rest of the book.

This chapter is organized into the following sections:

Overview of the EAN.UCC System 
UCC-12 (U.P.C.) and Consumer Units
EAN/UCC-14 and Intermediate Packs
SSCC and Carton Serial Numbers
Product ID versus Shipping Labels
UCC/EAN-128 and Secondary Information
Getting a UCC Company Prefix from the UCC
Summary of the EAN.UCC  System

4.2 Overview of the EAN.UCC System

The objective of the EAN.UCC System  is to improve communication between trading partners by establishing a precise but flexible method of uniquely identifying products and package quantity in both human readable and machine readable formats. To accomplish this objective, the EAN.UCC System defines:

There are rules for assigning Item Reference numbers to individual items, called consumer units in EAN.UCC terms. A consumer unit is the lowest saleable unit of sale for a specific product. A single 12 oz. bottle of aquarium cleaner, a 1 liter bottle of the same product and a 2 liter bottle of the same product are three different consumer units and would each get a different Item Reference number. The Item Reference numbers assigned to "consumer units" are all numeric and the length is determined by the Company Prefix that precedes it. The rules for assigning them are explained later in this chapter under the section titled UCC-12 (U.P.C.) and Consumer Units.
There are also rules for assigning Item Reference numbers to intermediate packs and shipping containers of consumer units. When identical consumer units are packaged into standard quantities of intermediate packs or shipping containers, the General EAN/UCC Specification specifies that they should be assigned a new, 14 digit number. Cases containing four 1 liter bottles would be assigned a different 14 digit number than cases containing eight 1 liter bottles of the same product. The rules for assigning these 14 digit numbers are explained later in this chapter in the section titled EAN/UCC-14 and Intermediate Packs.
There are also rules for assigning unique serial numbers to cartons and shipping containers, like the Package Identification Number (PIN) assigned by common carriers. This system is used in conjunction with EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) to tie the container or pallet to a specific purchase order number. The rules for assigning these are explained later in this chapter in the section titled SSCC and Carton Serial Numbers.
There are also rules for communicating secondary information such as purchase order numbers, batch numbers, lot numbers, expiration numbers, and other types of data commonly communicated between trading partners. The format for these numbers varies, i.e. not always a specific number of digits, but the rules are precise and allow the information to be encoded in a bar code for fast and accurate data entry. The rules for assigning these numbers are explained later in this chapter in the section titled EAN/UCC-128 and Secondary Information.

In addition to defining a standard method of assigning Item Reference numbers, carton serial numbers and identifying secondary information, the EAN.UCC System also specifies which symbologies to use for each different number. The table below describes which numbers to use on different types of items and what symbologies to use.

Item Being Identified

Number Format

Information in the Bar Code

Symbology

Consumer Unit

UCC-12 (12 digit U.P.C. #)

Trade Item Identification

UPC version A or E

Groupings of individual trade items above unit level (Intermediate, Carton or Pallet)

EAN/UCC-14

Trade Item Identification

ITF-14 or UCC/EAN-128 with an Application Identifier "01".

Transport (Logistic) Unit (Shipping Container)

18 digit Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC).

Serial number uniquely identifying a shipping container, pallet, etc.

UCC/EAN-128 with an Application Identifier of "00"

Other

Length varies but the symbol includes Application Identifiers to designate the type of data in the bar code.

Secondary information such as purchase order number, lot number, etc.

UCC/EAN-128

4.3 UCC-12 (U.P.C.) and Consumer Units

The UCC-12 Identification Number (U.P.C.) is a twelve-digit number assigned by a manufacturer to individual "consumer units" in its product catalog. It also becomes the base number for marking intermediate packs and shipping containers. No letters are allowed in the EAN.UCC System used to identify products or serialized cartons. Catalog numbers containing numbers and letters can still be carried in the inventory file and printed on packages or labels. Different manufacturers offering similar products DO NOT use the same UCC-12 number.

A "consumer unit" is the lowest level of packaging for a given product. For example: consider two manufacturers of similar, if not identical, industrial strength cleaners. Both manufacturers offer their products in one (1) gallon bottles and five (5) gallon pails.

Item

Company

Product

Package Description

1

Manufacturer A

Aquarium cleaner

1 gallon bottle

2

Manufacturer A

Aquarium cleaner

5 gallon pail

3

Manufacturer B

Aquarium cleaner

1 gallon bottle

4

Manufacturer B

Aquarium cleaner

5 gallon pail

In the table above, Items 1 & 3 are similar products in identical package quantities but since they are manufactured by different companies, they would have different U.P.C. numbers. The EAN.UCC System does not require that all industrial strength cleaners should have the same item number.

Items 1 & 2 are the same product made by the same company but they are different package quantities. In EAN.UCC terms, each of these different package quantities is called a "consumer unit" and would be assigned a different EAN/UCC-12 number. The UCC-12 number is divided into three sections structured as follows:

The first section consists of a prefix of digits that is assigned to individual companies by the Uniform Code Council (UCC). No two companies are assigned the same UCC Company Prefix. To date, approximately 200,000 numbers have been assigned. Instructions for obtaining a UCC Company Prefix are at the end of this chapter.
The second section consists of the Item Reference number that each individual company assigns to its products. The length is determined by the UCC Company Prefix that precedes it.

In accordance with the EAN.UCC System, manufacturers assign different Item Reference numbers to every consumer unit. Using the aquarium cleaner example above, an Item Reference number would be assigned to a one gallon bottle and a different Item Reference number to a 5 gallon pail of the same product.

The third and last section of the UCC-12 number is a single calculated check digit that is based on the first eleven digits of the U.P.C. number. The check digit helps intercept transposition errors before they are sent to the computer. See the General EAN.UCC Specification Manual (UCC Solutions Center) for an explanation of the rules for calculating this check digit.

The result is a twelve digit number that uniquely identifies the manufacturer and a specific item or product.

Example

UCC-12 (U.P.C.) number that could be assigned by the manufacturer to a one gallon bottle of aquarium cleaner.

The General EAN.UCC Specification specifies that UCC-12 data structure be encoded in the UPC- A or the UPC - E symbology. UPC version A looks like this:

Note: UPC-E is a special version of the UCC-12 that reduces the 12 digit number to 8 digits using specific rules. It is used to mark small items and it is only available to companies whose UCC Company Prefix starts with a zero (0).

Note: The EAN-13 is fundamentally the same as the UCC-12 but is assigned by EAN Member Organizations outside the United States and Canada. The EAN contains 13 digits. Companies who have been issued a UCC Company Prefix do not need to reapply if dealing outside the United States.

Whether the number above is entered from the keyboard or scanned with a bar code scanner, the computer finds the record for the consumer unit of a 1 gallon bottle of aquarium cleaner from this specific manufacturer.

4.4 EAN/UCC-14 and Intermediate Packs

Adding two additional digits to the front (left) of the base U.P.C. number and recalculating the check digit creates a new 14 digit code that identifies intermediate packs and shipping containers holding standard configurations of consumer units. The new 14 digit number is called the EAN/UCC-14.

Continuing with the aquarium cleaner example, consumer units of one gallon bottles might be boxed by one manufacturer in two standard configurations: cartons containing 4 one gallon bottles and cartons containing 12 one gallon bottles. These are two different package levels for the same consumer unit.

Using the EAN.UCC System, the carton containing 4 bottles would be assigned a "package level" of "1" and the carton containing 12 would be assigned the package level of "2." Customers could now order one gallon bottles of aquarium cleaner in cartons containing either 4 or 12 to a carton.

Example of 14 digit EAN/UCC-14

10012345678902 = 1 carton containing 4 consumer units of 1 gallon bottles of aquarium cleaner.

20012345678909 = 1 carton containing 12 consumer units of 1 gallon bottles of aquarium cleaner.

The package level is communicated in the first digit (indicator digit). The package level of "1" doesnít always mean a quantity of 4 consumer units and the package level of "2" doesnít always mean 12 consumer units.

Package Level Indicators can mean different quantities for different products. The zero (0) following the Package Level Indicator is automatically added for all North American packages. The original UCC-12 number is the same because it refers to the same consumer unit of 1 gallon bottles of aquarium cleaner. The check digit at the end is recalculated based on the previous 13 digits.

The UCC-12 standard specifies that the EAN/UCC-14 can be encoded in the Interleaved 2 of 5 symbology as shown below.

Chapter 5: Implementing an EAN.UCC System Labeling Project explains how to implement a customer request for both the UCC-12 and the EAN/UCC-14 described above.

At the option of the trading partners, the EAN/UCC-14 can also be encoded in the UCC / EAN- 128 Symbology using an Application Identifier of "01". With this option, the SCC shown above would now be coded as follows using UCC / EAN- 128.

The number above is interpreted by the computer as the EAN/UCC-14 number. The (01) in the beginning of the number is an application identifier used to signify that the bar code contains the EAN/UCC-14. The check digit at the end is based on the previous 13 digits (does not include the AI of "01"); hence, the EAN/UCC-14 is the same regardless of symbology.

4.5 SSCC and Carton Serial Numbers

The EAN.UCC System also defines a method of serializing cartons (Serial Shipping Container Code or SSCC), so the contents can be traced to a specific line item (or items) on a specific purchase order. The standard format for serializing cartons and shipping containers is an 18 digit number encoded in UCC/EAN-128 symbology shown in the following illustration. This number may or may not appear on the same label used for product identification and is not generally added to the box or container until the time of shipment.

Serial numbering of cartons provides unique identification. This is important, especially to identify cartons containing variable quantities or non-standard mixtures of product and as a reference number for EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) transactions. When used in conjunction with EDI, serial numbering cartons and shipping containers eliminates the need to physically inspect the contents of every carton. Eliminating this procedure has improved the productivity of some warehouse receiving operations by 100% or more!

The Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC) is different from the EAN/UCC-14 assigned to intermediate packs and shipping containers of consumer units. The same EAN/UCC-14 is assigned to all identical packaging configurations of the same product. The Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC) is a unique number assigned to each carton as it is shipped. Because it is unique, it can be used as a reference number tying the contents of a specific carton to information about the shipment including the purchase order(s) it should be applied to, carrier, date of shipment, etc. It is used in conjunction with the EDI 856 Advance Shipping Notice (ASN).

The 18 digit number consists of the following items:

Chapter 6: Implementing a Serial Shipping Container Project explains how to implement a customer request for this numbering system.

4.6 Product ID versus Shipping Labels

4.7 UCC/EAN-128 and Secondary Information

In addition to defining standard methods of identifying products and serializing cartons and shipping containers, the EAN.UCC standard also defines a method of identifying other important types of data with a bar code. For example:

Purchase Order Number
Production Date
Destination Zip Codes
Batch Number
Lot Number
Expiration Date

Bar codes containing secondary information are encoded in the UCC/EAN-128 symbology and include prefix codes, called Application Identifiers (AI's), to designate the type of data they contain. For example, the serial shipping container code contains the AI of "00" to indicate that the bar code contains a serial shipping container code. A bar code containing a purchase order number would start with the AI of "400." Bar codes containing batch numbers start with the AI of "10."

Application identifiers can be used by the computer system to automatically read many bar codes and place them in the proper fields in a data base. AIís will be used extensively with some ANSI MH10.8 labels (the basis for the label found on the shipping container).

4.8 Getting a UCC Company Prefix from the UCC

When a UCC number is needed (whether the company manufactures or packages a product), companies should contact the Uniform Code Council (UCC) to get a UCC Company Prefix. The UCC assigns UCC Company Prefixes and maintains a data base assuring that no other company is assigned the same number. Applicants should contact the UCC and request an application form. Their address and phone number is shown below:

Uniform Code Council
1-800-543-8137
web: http://www.uc-council.org

e-mail: info@uc-council.org

4.9 Summary of the EAN.UCC System

The EAN.UCC System assigns different product identification numbers to "trade items". Consumer units are assigned a 12-digit number. Packaging levels above the consumer unit are assigned a 14-digit number.

Consumer units are defined as the smallest unit intended to be sold to the ultimate end user. A one gallon bottle of aquarium cleaner and a 5 gallon pail of the same aquarium cleaner are different consumer units.

Trade items above the consumer unit may be intermediate packs, cartons, packs containing multiple consumer units or standard mixtures of consumer units. A carton containing 4 one gallon bottles of aquarium cleaner is an intermediate pack. A carton containing 12 one gallon bottles of the same aquarium cleaner is another intermediate pack. These are two different inventory keeping units or trade items.

The standard also defines how to assign serial numbers to shipping containers. This Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC) uniquely identifies shipping containers and provides a method of linking the physical carton or shipping container to information about its contents. The SSCC is an 18-digit number preceded by AI "00".

Finally, the standard also defines a method of identifying secondary information such as purchase order numbers, expiration dates, etc. either for internal uses or on the ANSI MH10.8 label.

By using a standardized numbering system, manufacturers donít need to maintain a different item number file for each customer that buys that product. Distributors and retailers can use the EAN.UCC System to place orders, automate receiving and maintain inventory by scanning the UCC-12 (U.P.C.) code and the EAN/UCC-14 number on cartons.

Using the EAN.UCC System with Existing Internal Numbers

If desired for internal purposes, individual companies may also continue to use their own proprietary number for any purpose other than communicating with an independent trading partner. This is done by using an "alternate" part number field in the inventory or part number data base. This enables the use of either UCC-12 (U.P.C.) or existing proprietary number.

Perhaps a company buys aquarium cleaner from many vendors and wants to maintain an inventory of all aquarium cleaner, regardless of the manufacturer. In this case, a company-specific "commodity code" for aquarium cleaner in 1 gallon bottles could be assigned and used internally to track inventory of the commodity. This code would not differentiate one brand from another and it would mean nothing to any of the aquarium cleaner manufacturers. In fact, some industries have established "official" commodity codes. Check with IBCA.

4.10 Additional Reading on the EAN.UCC System

U.P.C. Symbol Specification
Application Standard for Shipping Container Codes 
UCC/EAN-128 Application Identifier Standard
UCC Symbol Placement Guidelines 
Apparel Guidelines: Format and Symbol Placement 
UCC Quality Specification for the U.P.C. Printed Symbol
General EAN.UCC Specification
UCC Solutions Center

These materials are available from the Uniform Code Council at 1-800-543-8137 or visit their web site at http://www.uc-council.org.

Up ] 1. Introduction ] 2. Overview ] 3. Organizing the Labeling Project ] [ 4. The EAN.UCC System ] 5. Implementing an EAN.UCC System Labeling Project ] 6. Implementing a Serial Shipping Container Code Labeling Project ] 7. Bar Code Print Quality ] 8. IBCA Standard Forms Requirements ] 9. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) ] 10. Appendix: How Bar Codes Work ]